Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Hungary Faces EU Backlash Over Sovereignty Law

Nicholas Zalewski
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives a speech in Parliament on December 13th, 2013. Source: Reuters.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban once again finds himself in the hot seat with the European Union. This time it is over the sovereignty law that the Hungarian parliament just passed last December. The purpose of the legislation is to investigate individuals and organizations who allegedly work to undermine the sovereignty of Hungary. The law will create a new authority tasked with monitoring political interference. Foreign financing is banned for political parties and this new legislation will punish it with up to 3 years in prison. There are concerns that the legislation will be used against critics of Viktor Orban and his political party Fidesz, rather than actually protect the government.

Rambunctious Member State

Whether Orban agrees or not, as long as the nation wants to remain a member of the European Union, Orban has to abide by European Union legislation. This is where Orban gets himself in trouble. When Hungary passes legislation deemed illegal by the European Union, it faces consequences from the European Union. The European Union will open an infringement procedure against the member state as a result of the sovereignty law depending on how Hungary responds. First, Hungary received a formal notice from the European Commission and has two months to respond regarding the concerns that the Commission has regarding the sovereignty law. If Hungary fails to take action, the European Commission can send a reasoned opinion which formally requests the member state to comply with EU legislation. Based on previous history from Hungary, the member state will likely drag its feet to modify the sovereignty law and force the European Union to take further measures.

Concern for this new legislation is partly over the reality that it appears as a mechanism to help keep Fidesz and Prime Minister Orban in power. The majority of Hungarian media is already pro-government and attacks political opposition. While media can approve actions taken by the current national government that are positive, there is international concern that this is not the case and that Hungarian media is now supportive of Fidesz not because it is always acting in the interests of Hungarians but simply for the sake of supporting the party.

Orban’s antics have resulted in 21 billion euros of recovery and cohesion funds being frozen by the European Commission. This delays Hungary from being able to use the funds to help achieve economic convergence with wealthier member states. The money will be released by the European Commission as soon as the EU institution is convinced that Orban has corrected rule-of-law deficiencies in Hungary. Orban tried to insist that the money should be given immediately, yet this demand has fallen on deaf ears. EU funds have helped fuel Hungary’s strong economic growth since it became a member state in 2004, yet risks slowing down economic growth due to delaying the release of funds by not doing what is required in order to receive said funds.

Popularity of Fidesz In Danger

Large protests called for President Katalin Novak to resign after pardoning someone involved in a pedophilia case. Source: 24.hu

While Viktor Orban and Fidesz have been frequently criticized by the European Union and the media, this does not appear to have impacted Orban nor his party within Hungary. In the 2022 parliamentary election, Fidesz won 54.1 percent of the vote, 4.8 percent higher than in 2018. Current poll numbers from Politico suggest that support for Fidesz stands at 48 percent, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the Democratic Coalition in second place with 14 percent of support from voters.

Besides blowback from democratic backsliding and Orban dragging his feet to address the problem, popularity for Fidesz may further slip due to a scandal with the now former Hungarian President, Katalin Novak. She did what many consider unforgivable, pardon a man found guilty of covering up sexual abuse in a home for children. Novak was in Qatar on an official state visit but returned to Hungary before expected and resigned on national television. Besides Novak, former Justice Minister Judit Varga also resigned from the Hungarian Parliament and announced she would no longer be a member of politics. She was perceived as the future of Fidesz with a promising political future.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak has resigned following the scandal. Source: Hungary Today

This scandal will also make it challenging for Orban and his party to be viewed as the protectors of children. Fidesz has campaigned on protecting children from the LGBTQ activists, yet it appears his own party has failed children in order to pardon someone found guilty of hiding abuse of children. In an attempt to contain damage to his party, Orban sent an amendment to the Hungarian Parliament to remove the ability of the Hungarian President to pardon people convicted of crimes against children. However this may be too little too late for voters, particularly as Fidesz campaigned on protecting children.


Viktor Orban is free to do what he wants if he is willing to take Hungary outside the European Union. As Hungary benefits from its status as a member state however, this is highly unlikely. This means that Viktor Orban must learn how to play by the rules. If not, Hungarians will continue to be penalized economically due to the European Commission withholding funds from Hungary. It will be interesting to see if Fidesz takes a significant hit in the polls due to the scandal involving Former President Katalin Novak and former Justice Minister Judit Varga. Besides politics, Orban must also seriously do what is necessary in order to protect children from sexual abuse. He cannot campaign on protecting children from LGBTQ activists meanwhile allow those convicted of covering up sex abuse cases get pardoned. While forbidding any Hungarian President from ever pardoning someone convicted of crimes against children is a step in the right direction, there is likely far more to be done.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Liboreiro, Jorge. “Brussels launches legal action against Hungary’s controversial ‘sovereignty law’”. Euronews. 7 February 2024.

Than, Krisztina and Gyori Boldizsar. “Hungarian president resigns over sex abuse case pardon”. Reuters. 10 February 2023.

“EU tells Hungary its ‘sovereignty’ law violates EU law” Reuters. 7 February 2024.

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Let’s Tune In To The EU…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min